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Tweedledum and Tweedledee seek your votes


The

singular achievement of Tony Blair and his new right movement is the convergence

of British parliamentary politics into two almost identical factions. While

journalists try to offer the pretence of choice, the public is more aware than

ever of the charade, and its "apathy" is little different from the cynicism of

people in openly fake democracies such as the United States.

Here

and there are shades of choice, often with Labour to the right of the Tories,

although this is not reported. The illusion of a "left-of-centre" government

versus a mad-dog opposition is important to liberal journalists. The Daily Mail

and the Murdoch press know otherwise, having long recognised Blair’s

achievement. In health and education, Labour has promoted privatisation, the

core of far-right ideology, more widely and rapidly than Thatcher or Major

dared. John Prescott’s determination to privatise the London Underground and air

traffic control, in spite of the blood spilt on the privatised railways and an

almost universal public opposition, is a measure of the extremism that now

permeates the Labour Party. Prescott’s recent oafish act was a blessed

diversion. He and that other tribune of the working class, Clare Short, are

vital players of the new right, as demonstrated by Short’s aggressive promotion

of the "global economy" as the "hope for the poor".

When

Blair promises "true radicalism" in his next term, he speaks the truth. He means

the radicalism of the far right. Take new Labour’s importance to the Bush

administration. This is not only its support for the extension of American

military power into space, but the part Blair will play in dismantling EU trade

controls and promoting the General Agreement on Trade and Services, or Gats,

which smashes the last national barriers to multinational corporations’ takeover

of "services" – everything from schools to local film industries.

These

contours of power are seldom traced in the media, thanks to an almost wilful

blindness among establishment journalists that extends to the coming assault on

journalism itself. The Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, and the Trade Secretary,

Stephen Byers, have yet to be seriously challenged about legislation which, for

the first time since broadcasting began in Britain, will unleash a commercialism

that will make Rupert Murdoch feel that his long campaign to "open up" British

broadcasting has reached its moment of triumph. A reading of their white paper,

A New Future for Communications, leaves this in little doubt. The BBC is to fall

under the Competition Act, and the government will have the power to judge new

BBC services for their "market impact". The Tories never went this far. In the

last parliament before Labour came to power, a Tory minister argued the case for

regulation against a Labour frontbencher demanding "freedom" for the likes of

Murdoch.

Labour’s extreme Toryism is a matter of record. Blair has spent less on health

and education than Thatcher and Major. In the financial year before last, Labour

spent £3.5bn less (once you account for inflation) than in all but one of the 18

years the Tories were in power. The gulf between rich and poor has grown faster

under Blair and Brown than under Major, reports the Institute for Fiscal

Studies. The richest fifth of the population have seen their after-tax income

grow almost three times faster than under the Tories. Brown says he wants to be

remembered for "abolishing pensioner poverty". The IFS study shows that the

number of pensioners living in poverty has increased by 40,000 under Labour.

Lesser-of-two-evilism, as a justification for voting, is not quite dead in this

country, but almost. What will hurt Labour is turncoatism. This is a corruption

distinct from the brown envelopes type, but more serious for a party whose

credibility still rests, for many people, on its moral authority. There are

millions of Labour voters who still like to distinguish their representatives

from the Tories by a test of principle. Some political pirouetting is tolerated,

but consistent, shameless betrayal is not.

A

directory of the turncoats has been compiled by the Guardian’s diarist Matthew

Norman. For months, Norman has been running a hilarious Turncoat of the Year

competition (or is it now Turncoat of Turncoats?), which has nominated Peter

Hain for his famous conversion from principled activist to enthusiastic

apologist for the Foreign Office and its murderous policy on Iraq, and Kim

Howells for his brilliant career move from militant Welsh NUM picket to Blair’s

minister for competitiveness. In this capacity, he defended the government’s

policy of denying vaccines to Iraqi children.

Robin

Cook was a newly elected MP in 1978 when he wrote this in the New Statesman: "It

is a truism that every war for the past two decades has been fought by poor

countries with weapons supplied by rich countries." Singling out the

dictatorship in Indonesia, Cook pointed out that the supply of British-made Hawk

aircraft to Suharto would have "devastating potential" against those fighting

for their freedom in East Timor. Speed on to 1997, and Cook’s first overseas

trip as Foreign Secretary was to Indonesia, to shake hands warmly with Suharto,

a genocidist. (The photograph of this illustrated the Foreign Office’s annual

report on human rights.) On his return, Cook secretly approved 11 new arms

contracts to Indonesia, including bombs and ammunition. Lamenting that he could

not legally stop a contract, signed by the previous government, to supply Hawk

aircraft to Indonesia, he said nothing when Suharto’s minister for defence

announced that talks were already under way with Britain for 18 more Hawk

aircraft than were contracted with the Tories. This was in the week that Cook

announced the "ethical dimension" to his foreign policy. The former CND member

has recently indicated his approval of Bush’s maniacal Star Wars plans.

So

who will be the Turncoat of Turncoats? Is "John is John" Prescott a chin in

front? "Let me make it crystal clear," he boomed at the party conference in

1993, "that any privatisation of the railway system that does take place will,

on the arrival of a Labour government, be quickly and effectively dealt with . .

. and be returned to public ownership." The dead of Ladbroke Grove and Hatfield

are his witness. Their legacy is that Prescott has not resigned honourably, nor

was he sacked for his part in their tragedy.

I

calculate that, out of 418 Labour members of the Commons, there are just six who

have held to true principles. They are: Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, Tam Dalyell,

George Galloway, Alice Mahon and John McDonnell. Most of the rest began by

voting for cuts in benefits to single mothers, then proceeded to back the

cluster-bombing of civilians in Yugoslavia and the economic killing of children

in Iraq. Or they remained silent. They include almost all the new female MPs.

Watching Yvette Cooper, the Blairite minister, take her maternity leave with a

media fanfare, I could not help thinking of the unborn Serb and Iraqi children

killed by policies she supported. As for Blair, although he pretended to be a

socialist in the early 1980s, he has no record of clear principles upon which to

renege. Like Thatcher, he has always been a "modern" Tory, if by another name.

These

are surreal political times, but they are hopeful, too. All over the world, the

young are stirring again. They so frighten the new Blairite right that 10,000

police had to be deployed to imprison them for eight hours in Oxford Street. It

is these young people, true internationalists from London and La Paz, Quito and

Pretoria, who are putting the questions that journalists and politicians ignore.

Their politics are neither trivial nor incoherent, as some have claimed, simply

the antithesis of those of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum currently seeking your

vote.

 

 

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